Both team titles on the final night are all-but-decided, but that shouldn’t dampen the thrills one iota in College Station. The crowd is loud, and more Meet Records are guaranteed to go down on the final night of the 2013 SEC Championships.
Men’s 1650 Freestyle Final
The Auburn men showed that they can do freestyles of any distance; after winning the 50 freestyle earlier in the meet, Zane Grothe added a bookending-win in the 1650 freestyle. That included upending the impressively deep Georgia crew, with a 14:41.45. That’s only four seconds off of what he was at NCAA’s last year, and with Auburn as a team largely unshaved, he should be able to move onto the podium at NCAA’s. That’s especially true if Georgia’s defending NCAA Champion Martin Grodzki continues to strugggle; though he did look better here than he has all season with a 14:59.66 for 6th place.
The Bulldogs overall put 5 into the top 10 of this 1650, led by junior William Freeman in 14:44.38 in 2nd. Florida freshman Arthur Frayler took 3rd in 14:49.88, with LSU senior Craig Hamilton 4th in 14:53.10 (he was the fastest out of the afternoon heats). It’s safe to say that all of those top four were probably shy of a full taper for this meet.
Matias Koski, the freshman from Georgia, was the top seed coming into this race, but was 7 seconds off of that time in this final for 7th place. He’s been quiet since winning the 500 free by a full second on Wednesday.
Women’s 1650 Freestyle Final
The Texas A&M women have come to play at their first ever SEC Championship meet. They started off Saturday with another SEC Championship Record, this one going down at the hands of Sarah Henry in 15:45.79.
She took her race out in a 4:47.5, at which point a number of swimmers, including Florida freshman Jessica Thielmann, hung right with her. Every 50 thereafter, as we’ve seen Henry do before, she began stretching out that lead. It was a matter of a few tenths here-and-there on each lap, but over fifteen 50′s, that starts to add up. At the end, Henry put a big exclamation mark with a 27.76 closing split (as compared to Thielmann’s 29.09) to win and set the new Meet Record.
The old mark had stood since just last year, where Wendy Trott from Georgia was a 15:47.04.
Thielmann, in her first collegiate championship, still performed very well to take 2nd in 15:53.93, although she was faster mid-season. She’s a former British Junior Champion.
Henry’s teammate Maureen McLaine, who’s also an All-American in this race, took 3rd in 15:53.93; she, like Henry, had a strong sub-28 kick on the back end of this race.
Florida’s Alicia Mathieu was 4th in 15:59.11, followed by Georgia’s Amber McDermott in 16:01.66.
Men’s 100 Free Final
Right out of the mile, the meet jumped straight back into the sprints, where Auburn’s Marcelo Chierighini ran away with a relatively-easy victory in 41.60; that included turning in under 20 seconds at 19.92. What’s really interesting, though, is that given his final time, that isn’t even that fast of a first 50 in historical context. Every time in history, except once, that we’ve seen a faster 100 time, the opening 50 has been better (mostly from Cesar Cielo and Nathan Adrian). That says that Even being that fast, if Chierighini hopes to chase a sub-41 time, he probably has to be out even quicker.
In 2nd was a tie between two stars of their teams: John Dalton from Texas A&M, rebreaking his chool record, and Sam Rairden from Tennessee in 42.74. For Rairden, that completes a trifecta of runner-up performances in his individual races.
Alabama’s BJ Hornikel was the only other swimmer under 43 seconds with a 42.87, followed by Georgia freshman Matt Ellis in an impressive 43.08.
Women’s 100 Free Final
This 100 free final was a great battle between Megan Romano, who by the time this season is done could be the fastest freestyler in college history, and Natalie Hinds, who has four years to try and stake a claim to that same title. Hinds edged ahead early, but it was basically by the length of her fingers, after the first 50 yards. Romano fought back on the third 25 yards to turn dead even. Hinds fought, and fought, but in the last 12 or 13 yards, you could see her visibly go into a battle with the water. Her turnover slowed just a bit, and every stroke became more laborious while Romano stayed smooth.
Ultimately, it was those last 5-10 yards, where Romano used her superior 200-freestyle-esque endurance to overtake the freshman and win in 47.40. Georgia’s Allison Schmitt, another “distance” sprinter, also nipped Hinds at the last stroke for 2nd in 47.95, while the freshman took 3rd in 48.03.
Hinds has worked hard this year; after just one season of college swimming, she’s already made huge progress. If she can find a way to close those last 10-12 yards of this race over the next three years, we could be seeing the next sub-47 sprinter in the making.
Tennessee’s Lindsay Gendron was 4th in 48.27, and Florida’s Ellese Zalewski was 5th in 48.37.
Men’s 200 Backstroke Final
Auburn’s Kyle Owens, rocking some mean facial hair like most of the Auburn team, gave the Tigers a second-straight win to open Saturday night at the 2013 SEC Championships. After being pushed by a group of freshmen in prelims, Owens (1:39.69) put a full body-length between him and the rest of the field early in this race to swim the first collegiate sub-1:40 in the race this season. This race at NCAA’s should come down to a battle between him and the huge backstroke group at Stanford. Owens swims his race a little differently than a lot of the great 200 backstrokers we see; he’s more of an “Aaron Peirsol” type, popping up after 6-7 yards, than a “Cory Chitwood” type, pushing every wall to a big 15 yards underwater.
Among the freshmen, Florida’s Corey Main was 2nd in 1:41.69, while Tennessee’s Sean Lehane was 3rd in 1:41.84. Lehane is having a great freshman season, but as he matures he’ll have to improve on finishing in finals; this is the second backstroke event where his morning swim was significantly better than his evening swim.
Georgia’s Ty Stewrat, another freshman, was 4th in 1:42.71, besting his teammate Jared Markham who was a 1:43.73.
After that event, Auburn pulled exactly 100 points ahead of Georgia for 2nd place, and are unlikely to give that lead back up. Florida was still about 250 points ahead.
Women’s 200 Back Final
As they’ve been doing much of this meet, the Florida women went out hard in this 200 backstroke. Really hard, in fact, to the tune of a 54.2 opening 50 from American Olympian Elizabeth Beisel and a 54.7 from Canadian Olympian Sinead Russell.
We knew that Missouri’s Dominique Bouchard would be coming on the back-half, though. She made a little bit of a move on the third 50, but Beisel and Russell matched her coming home as they had just enough left in the tank. Beisel would take the win in 1:50.40. That’s the second-fastest time in the country this year, behind fellow National Teamer Liz Pelton, but is faster than the 1:50.48 that won NCAA’s for Beisel last year. This year’s National Championship meet is going to be at a whole new level – it might take under 1:50 just to make the top 3 this season.
Russell touched 2nd in 1:50.84, a personal best for her, and Bouchard was 3rd in 1:51.69. Ashlee Linn was 4th in 1:52.70 (another freshman) giving the Gators three out of the top four finishers.
Auburn’s Aubrey Peacock took the B-Final victory in 1:54.18. The Arizona transfer is paying immediate dividends for the Tigers.
Men’s 200 Breaststroke Final
Florida’s Matt Elliott even-split his last three 50′s en route to his first ever SEC Championship and the second-fastest time in school history with a 1:54.13. Florida has a young group of breaststrokers, including third-place finisher Eduardo Solaeche-Gomez (1:54.74), both of whom are sophomores. It shouldn’t be too long before the 1:53.8 school record held by Olympian Clark Burckle goes by the wayside. Elliott is a really technically sound breaststroker that does some great things for young swimmers to watch – especially with how much action he gets in his shoulders. The importance of an active upper-body can sometimes be lost in the focus on turnover and leg drive in this stroke.
In between the two Gators was Georgia’s Nic Fink, the defending champion coming into the meet, in 1:54.48. Missouri’s Sam Tierney snapped out of a funk with a 1:55.04 for 4th overall, followed by his teammate Jowan Qupty in 1:55.33. Georgia freshman Chase Kalisz was two-for-two in his individual races at this meet, but couldn’t stay tight enough on the first 100 here to finish any higher than 6th (1:55.68).
Women’s 200 Breaststroke
Coming into the 2011-2012 season (last year), Rebecca Soni and Tara Kirk were the only two women ever under 2:06 in the 200 yard breaststroke. In the two seasons since, we’ve seen five different women do it, including two in this race tonight. The winner was Breeja Larson in 2:05.71; she’s the all-time best in this event, though after a new NCAA Record in the 100, she was more than a second away from her best time in this swim. Larson’s swims, because she’s so big and gets so much distance on each stroke, can fluctuate violently based simply on stroke timing. Moreso than maybe any female breaststroker we’ve ever seen, she has to be mentally sharp in this race to think 3-4 strokes out of each wall about when she’s going after the turn.
As her race goes on, her turnover picks up a bit, though that still results in slower splits. In this race, she went 4-5-6-5-6-6-7-7 on her stroke counts (remember that in the 100, she was 4-7-7-7). That’s where the door is open to beat her in this 200. If she’s on her timing, nobody will ever come close to her in yards.
Larson was voted as the SEC Swimmer of the Meet for her efforts in the breaststrokes as well as on the A&M SEC record-setting 400 medley relay.
Credit goes to Georgia freshman Annie Zhu. who pushed Larson the whole way. That’s especially true on the last 50, where Zhu fought back from a full-second deficit to take 2nd in 2:05.99, which makes her now the 7th-fastest in the history of this event, at any level. Zhu hit a plateau in 2010. A move to train at the famed North Baltimore Aquatic Club got her going again in a big way in 2012, and her big long course improvements this summer have suddenly made her one of the best in the country in yards as well; both in the breaststrokes and IM’s.
Zhu doesn’t actually age up until September 14th; so this is a new 17-18 National Age Group Record, breaking the old mark of 2:06.18 held by Larson herself from 2011.
Men’s Platform Diving
David Bonuchi came into this diving event looking to become only the 4th diver to sweep the SEC diving titles. Bonuchi came out hot with a nearly 80-point first dive. After that, though, Auburn’s John Santieu took control of this diving and went on to win with 426.50 points, as Bonuchi fell to 2nd in a tie with A&M’s Ford McLiney.
This was still an admirable performance for Bonuchi, the eventual Diver of the Meet, considering that he injured his eardrum during a practice session on Monday, before the meet even started. The amount of pressure on the ears when divers enter the water from 10-meters high, the equivalent of a three-story house, is unbelievable, and Bonuchi pushed through for a great week of diving.
Men’s 400 Free Relay Finals
The Auburn men, despite getting only one sprinter into each of the 50 and 100 freestyle finals, reach all over the place to find the swimmers for these sprint relays. The team of Marcelo Chierighini, Arthur Mendes, James Disney-May, and Kyle Owens combined for a solid nation-leading 2:50.12, which is two-tenths better than they were at NCAA’s last year. That included a 41.92 leadoff from Marcelo Chierighini, plus some pick-ups from unexpected places. That includes a 43.43 second leg from Arthur Mendes, a mid-season pick up who was brought in primarily as a butterflier; and backstroker Kyle Owens anchoring in 42.04 to put away the Florida Gators.
Though the Gators were getting equivalent or better reaction times to Auburn, Auburn was getting a lot more out of their starts, and that seemed to make the difference int his meet.
Of note, that was a 6th event victory for Chierighini, who was on all four Auburn winning relays (the four short ones) in addition to the 50 and 100 freestyles individually. For those efforts, he was named the official 2013 SEC Male Swimmer of the Meet.
Florida, though runners-up in this relay, appeared happy with the result. After finishing just 13th in this relay at NCAA’s last year, their 2:50.83 puts them in contention for a top 3 finish this year.
Texas A&M, whose sprinters were having a really good session, was 3rd in this race in 2:53.07, led by a 42.71 leg from John Dalton, and LSU was 4th in 2:54.18.
Women’s 400 Medley Relay Final
This Georgia 400 free relay isn’t quite as good as the 800 free relay, but it’s still one of the best in the nation with largely the same legs. The only difference is the inclusion of Chantal van Landeghem on their 2nd leg, and the freshmen came through with flying colors on a 48.15 second leg as the Bulldogs broke the SEC Record in 3:11.23. That relay included Allison Schmitt (48.42), Shnnon Vreeland (47.99), and another monstrous relay anchor from Megan Romano (46.67).
Florida kept this race close through the halfway mark , with their freshmen Sinead Russell and Natalie Hinds leading off in 48.6 and 47.4, respectively. They had about a four-tenths lead headed into the final exchange (Ellese Zalewski was a 48.0), but their anchor Elizabeth Beisel, as great as she is, just didn’t have the speed to keep up with Romano. She anchored in a 49.05.
Tennessee took 3rd in 2:14.18, with a 47.7 anchor from Lindsay Gendron, and A&M was 4th in 3:15.24. A time like that will score at NCAA’s, and if they can improve it a little and get into the top 5, that would be really big for their chances at a top-3 finish.
And with that the great Auburn streak came to an end, leaving Texas and Stanford to continue their’s next weekend, as the Florida Gators are the champions. After this performance, where the Gators showed a lot more freestyle speed than I think anybody outside of Gainesville knew they had, they’ll move into at least conversation for a top 5 spot at NCAA’s. In a year where there’s not a lot of complete teams, anybody in that top 5 could come away with a national title, especially with Florida’s divers doing so well.
Meanwhile, the Georgia Bulldogs extended their much shorter streak to 4-straight SEC titles, despite a good push from newcomers Texas A&M. Did Georgia do enough to show that they can compete with Cal at NCAA’s? If we continue on the assumption that they’re not tapered and will proceed to hit that taper in March and get better, then absolutely.
1. University of Florida 1038
2. Auburn University 823.5
3. Georgia, University of 679
4. Tennessee, University of, Knox 570.5
5. University of Missouri 531
6. Louisiana State University 530.5
7. Texas A&M University 517.5
8. University of South Carolina 444.5
9. University of Kentucky 367.5
10. University of Alabama 302
1. Georgia 1420
2. Texas A&M 1296
3. Florida 1190.5
4. Tennessee 1018
5. Auburn 860
6. Arkansas 594
7. LSU 494
8. Missouri 487
9. Kentucky 368.5
10. Alabama 353
11. South Carolina 248
12. Vanderbilt 183